Golf Industry Uses New Technology to Confront Environmental Demands

Aside from designing an aesthetically appealing course with a strategic layout, architects now have to consider such things as water runoff and conservation. Plus, today’s designers are under pressure from environmentalists to preserve native habitats and vegetation. Brad Bell, president of Bell Design and Development, told Sacramento’s Business Journal, “The days of a golf course as a true, parkland-type area – with wall-to-wall grass, everything’s irrigated and mowed down – are gone.”

Although today’s environmental demands have brought frustration to many in the golf industry, they have also spurred on innovative technology. Designers and maintenance crews are finding that while implementing new technology may be more costly initially, it actually cuts costs in the long run.

For Example, turfgrasses have been developed to be more drought-resistant and less susceptible to weed and pest infestation. New irrigation systems are reducing water consumption. Ponds and lakes are still designed to defy golfers, but many are now an intricate component of the irrigation system, as well. Ponds placed in strategic locations capture water runoff to be reused later on. This system decreases water consumption and also prevents pesticides and fertilizers, often found in course runoff, from polluting local streams and lakes.

The use of recycled water from nearby wastewater treatment plants and “smart sprinklers” decreases water consumption. Following a 1980 California mandate, requiring the use of recycled water on golf courses, water consumption was cut by nearly a third during the next decade.

“Smart sprinklers” are helping to conserving water. The sprinklers are connected to a computerized weather monitor that determines when and how much to water. Regarding water conservation, Bell told the Business Journal, “Virtually everywhere you go, water is a resource, so it needs to be used wisely and frugally.”

Maintenance crews cut down on chemical use by constantly monitoring weather conditions and taking soil samples to target the specific needs of the golf course. Modern pesticides and herbicides are also becoming more specialized decreasing the overall amount of chemicals being used today.

Clyde Elmore, a weed specialist with the University of California Davis, told the Business Journal, “The sheer amount of material applied (to courses) has dropped enormously…When I first started 30 years ago we were using 300 pounds of a (weed killing) product (calcium arsonate) per acre. Now we’re frequently in the range of one-tenth of a pound per acre, (since) they’ve found chemicals that are highly active. Generally, we’re also working with safer products.”

Changing attitudes toward course appearance also helps facilitate environmental protections. While golfers still expect well-kept facilities, a more natural look is becoming more welcomed. Bell told the Business Journal, “At Teal Bend, we created, out of what was a bad farm, 100 to 150 acres of (seasonal) wetlands within and around the golf course. Now it’s a beautiful area with cottonwoods and willows, and animals and bugs have taken over huge chunks of the property, which actually adds to the golf experience.” Aside from Teal Bend, Bell’s designs include three other Sacramento-area championship courses – Turkey Creek, Coyote Moon and Empire Ranch.